Is there a place in our emerging technological society for a university that is celebrated almost as much for its architecture as for its academic achievements? Will a sense of place continue to be as relevant for the University of Toronto in the future as it was in the past?
To both questions, the unequivocal answer is yes. Over the last decade we have devoted much of our energy and our resources to building our intellectual capital. Through rigorous academic planning we have identified our strengths and priorities. We have created a $1.2-billion endowment – the largest endowment of any Canadian university – and the great majority of it is dedicated to student financial support and research chairs, both of which will ensure that we attract and retain the finest minds from throughout Canada and the world. Now the time has come for us to augment those efforts by enhancing the physical setting, the infrastructure, in which these great minds will live and work.
At U of T learning is a contact sport, where the collision of ideas is a daily consequence of face-to-face interaction, debate and collaboration. Quite intentionally, we have designed spaces on our three campuses to facilitate contact that is far from virtual and stridently interdisciplinary – experiential learning that gives rise to innovation and synergies that are as enriching as they are unpredictable. The new student centre at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, the evolving Academic Resource Centre at the University of Toronto at Scarborough, the soon-to-open Munk Centre for International Studies – these are the new brick and mortar foundations of transformative personal and educational experiences. Similarly we are committed to building at least 2,500 new residence spaces to meet our commitment that every entering student who wants one will be guaranteed a bed on campus.
We are also planning major new teaching and research facilities: the Bahen Centre for Information Technology, the centre for cellular and biomedical research, a new building for the Faculty of Pharmacy and the proposed centre for communications and information technology on the Mississauga campus. Each of these projects recently received major – and very welcome – capital grants from the province. Combined with federal, municipal and outstanding private support, the grants will allow us to proceed with our plans and dramatically strengthen our capacity for teaching and research.
At the same time we are working to enhance the overall cohesion and aesthetics of the university with the Open Space Plan for the St. George campus. Here our attention is focussed on the space that connects our individual buildings and creating a campus as a whole. With this plan we will achieve the full promise of our extraordinary physical endowment, an irreplaceable and invaluable gift of place and presence in the heart of one of the world’s most exciting and diverse cities.
The experiences afforded by our university can’t be replicated on computer or over the Internet, but they can be enhanced by information technology. From the library to the classroom to the laboratory, we deploy technology to enrich and extend virtually all that we do. The research university is not for everyone, and there is no doubt a place for the virtual university. But it is not our place. It’s not what we are nor what we should be. Rather we must continue to enhance one of our central strengths – our sense of place – and create a community committed to the daily confluence of people and ideas. In a world of constant change, that is one part of the University of Toronto that should never change.